By Benjamin Fried
PPS talked with customers at eight public markets across the US to find out what appealed to them about shopping at a market. The top response was that it brought people in the community together. Not only did the answer confirm the attractiveness of markets as social gathering places, it also showed that markets can draw customers–and become more self-sustaining–by building a sense of community.
These markets are at the center of efforts to strengthen neighborhoods with vital public spaces.
Several recipients of PPS’s public markets grants, supported by the Ford Foundation, are using markets to foster vibrant places where they’re needed most. Bolstered by PPS’s Placemaking expertise, the grantees are exploring how to create markets that anchor the social life of their communities. From the revitalization of a declining retail corridor in southern California, to the enhancement of a transit village in Oakland, to the reclamation of an old cigarette factory in Louisville, Kentucky, these markets are at the center of efforts to strengthen neighborhoods with vital public spaces.
Panorama City, California: An Alternative to Big Box
How can an old retail development thrive when facing stiff competition from a Wal-Mart across the street? For the Plaza del Valle–a stretch of stores along Van Nuys Boulevard in Panorama City–a public market may hold the answer. Located in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, a primarily Latino area that lacks central gathering places, the Plaza features a mercado-style row of vendor stalls between storefronts and a parking lot in the rear. PPS’s grantee, the Valley Economic Development Corporation (VEDC), saw an opportunity to introduce the kind of active, community-oriented public space that would stand out as an alternative to the big box nearby.
After establishing a partnership with the developers of the Plaza to improve its public spaces, VEDC launched a weekly farmers market there this spring. A PPS-led Placemaking workshop in April yielded several more ideas to make the space a focal point for the community. Benches that now face away from fountains will be re-oriented to give people a better view of the water, and the VEDC will soon install a playground at one end of the Plaza. The large stores are also reconfiguring their window displays so that the Plaza feels like a genuine shopping street with lively storefronts.
VEDC has also developed a process to welcome and implement ideas from residents. “The first go-round on the farmers market wasn’t community-oriented,” explains Warren Cooley of VEDC. “We needed to develop a stronger interactive process with the community and get their input on things.”
As a result they are revamping the market, which originally offered only produce, as a weekly street fair with arts & crafts and restaurant vendors in addition to farmers. Social events and programs will also be added to the mix, including outdoor screenings of soccer matches and workshops about healthy eating and exercise.
Oakland: Building a Village Center
Oakland’s Fruitvale Village is a 255,000 sq ft transit-oriented development (adjacent to a BART train station) with an impressive variety of uses: mixed-income housing on site and senior housing nearby, a public library, a community medical and dental clinic, a Head Start childcare center, offices, and a variety of retail on the ground-floor. The Unity Council, a community-based non-profit that developed and operates the Village, implemented a new public market this summer to tie these diverse functions together with a central gathering place. Like many of the grantees PPS is now working with, the Unity Council discovered that the market plays a key role in making a successful place, but that a comprehensive plan for public space management–even during non-market hours–is also necessary.
“We’re really trying to offer the community a space with an identity beyond the market.”
At a PPS-led workshop this April, participants agreed that regularly scheduled weekly events would complement the market and attract the community to the Village’s public spaces. Building on the popularity of the Sunday morning farmers market, Wednesday afternoon concerts and a Friday evening outdoor cinema have made the Fruitvale Village plaza into a well-used space throughout the week. “We’re really trying to offer the community a space with an identity beyond the market, where families can feel safe and comfortable together,” says the Unity Council’s Tom Limon.
The farmers market attracts customers as early as 8 AM on Sundays, even though vendor stalls don’t officially open until 10. The effect of the market can also be seen on Fruitvale’s main shopping street, where businesses have seen an increase in weekend foot traffic. A permanent indoor space for a public market, located adjacent to the Fruitvale Village plaza, is now in the works. The Council hopes the expanded market will further establish Fruitvale Village as a gathering place and center of community activity for local residents and BART riders alike.
Louisville: Creating a Place From Within
The intersection of 18th Street and Broadway is the heart of predominantly African American West Louisville – and the beginning of Kentucky’s Dixie Highway (which stretches across the state). It’s also the 23-acre site of a vacant 600,000 sq ft Philip Morris cigarette factory now owned by the city, which some residents now envision as a mixed-use district with a farmers market right on the street corner. In a neighborhood looking to spur economic growth from within and gain greater access to fresh foods, the market development is seen as central to accomplishing their goals.
“It will be a gathering place… It will be the core that everything will begin to revolve around.”
PPS’s grantee, the Community Farm Alliance (CFA), has established a number of partnerships in West Louisville with the goal of building a local food economy in Kentucky by connecting farmers with urban residents to foster food related businesses (read more on CFA). One of these partners, the Champions for West Louisville Economic Development–an organization of African American leaders dedicated to economic vitality in the area–plans to work with the city to redevelop the old Philip Morris site.
“We envision that would be the central location at West Louisville,” says Reverend George Curington of the Champions. “We’re looking at it as an anchor site going straight out to Dixie Highway.” Curington describes the future development as a place that will mix small locally owned shops, light industry, and park space. The market would boost the appeal of the area as well as benefit from the mix of uses around it.
PPS led a Placemaking workshop for the Philip Morris site in August, offering a sense of opportunity for what could take shape there. “It was great–it brought some hope back to the community,” said Curington “It will be a gathering place. It will be something for those in the West End who don’t have transportation. It will be the core that everything will begin to revolve around.”